Those of you tuned into the beer universe probably know the Great American Beer Festival (or GABF) just took place in Denver, CO. Somehow, the bigwigs at SanTan decided that I should come along for the ride, and I figured I would give my loyal readers a look at what went on.

For me, this was my first Great American Beer Festival. The festival itself was, more than anything, overwhelming. The amount of breweries and the amount of people made it almost impossible to get a handle on what beers were being served, much less which ones you liked. I would recommend to a potential festival-goer that you approach it with some sort of system. Either you need some way of recording the beers for future reference (quite a few people at the SanTan booth were taking pictures of the logo, presumably for this reason) or you need to limit yourself to a range. For example, you could try only beers from Oregon, or only Pale Ales. Either of these techniques would guarantee you your money’s worth in beer.

Working the booth was also a great pleasure. At local festivals, it is often the case that people are familiar with SanTan. Only at the GABF do you run into this many people completely unfamiliar with your beer. Thus when they compliment you, it is extremely rewarding.

Of course, there was plenty of beer and events to be had outside of the sessions. The city of Denver itself has many great breweries. We made a pilgrimage to Great Divide (which is one of my favorites) and Crooked Stave, a boutique brewery which has just entered Arizona. The beers at both places were outstanding, and Crooked Stave really outdid themselves on selection—you could drink only samples and leave quite pleased.

Two breweries outside of Denver, Oskar Blues and New Belgium, also treated us with tremendous hospitality. At both places, we were given all-access tours and had time to speak with people involved in the beer production. The scale and sophistication at New Belgium especially was awe-inspiring. But even at that scale, it was clear that the people making the beer were passionate about what they did. We also came back with plenty of great ideas, large and small, that we could implement. Even though we didn’t win any awards, the trip had plenty of value. For any beer fan, I have to say the GABF is something you must do at least once.